To Don Helgeson, a college student [Letter 443]

Item Reference Code: 038_02x_001_001

Date(s) of creation

February 26, 1951


Don Helgeson


[Page 1]
February 26, 1951

Mr. Don Helgeson
Phi Delta Theta
Lawrence College
Appleton, Wisconsin

Dear Mr. Helgeson:

Thank you for your letter. I am glad that you liked THE FOUNTAINHEAD and that you have selected it as the subject of your term paper. But I am sorry that you seem to wish to narrow my novel down to an aspect which would be insignificant and incorrect.

The printed letter which I am enclosing will tell you what I think of the matter of basing fiction characters on real people. In regard to the points you mention, I must tell you that THE FOUNTAINHEAD is actually not a novel about architecture—or rather, architecture is merely the background I use for a theme which applies to all human activities and professions. You may be justified in seeing some parallel between Howard Roark and Frank Lloyd Wright only in a strictly architectural sense, that is, in the fact that both are great fighters for modern architecture. But if you have read Mr. Wright’s books you must know that there is no resemblance whatever between Roark’s personal character and the character of Mr. Wright, between the events of their lives, and between their fundamental philosophies of life. You may see a resemblance between Henry Cameron and Louis Sullivan in the general aspect of a great professional tragedy. The other comparisons which you mention do not have even that general aspect in common.[*]

You are, of course, free to approach THE FOUNTAINHEAD from any angle you wish, but since you

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February 26, 1951     Page 2.

have asked my opinion of your approach, I must say that I find it regrettable. I think that you are reversing the process of serious study. If we want to learn anything from life, we must observe the specific people and events around us and draw some wider principles and abstractions from our observations. But what you are doing is taking wide fundamental principles and reducing them to the narrow, the specific, and the accidental. You are reducing fiction to journalism—and these are two entirely different fields of endeavor. May I suggest that you reverse your approach?



Ayn Rand



*One of the two additional comparisons proposed by Helgeson which AR rejected was between Gail Wynand and William Randolph Hearst.